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Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu


Mahabalipuram is not far from Chennai, around 60km. In fact it is an easy day ride from Chennai along the coast. I was in town before the Tsunami of 2004. It was an amazing little town, and yes, it was touristy, but it was not overrun by tourism.

Indian ladies from Chennai go for a swim
Locals go for a swim

During the weekend it saw quite some day trippers from Chennai who would come for a swim and try to get some cheap fish at the local market. It's an old town, there's proof it was already active as a port in the 7th century. And today it has still an active fishing fleet.

Pancha Rathas temples in Mahabalipuram, south of Chennai
The much worn out but beautiful Pancha Rathas temples at the beach

There's not a lot to do in town itself. But there's the beach, several temples including the Shore Temple and the Pancha Rathas temples.

The temples are also dating back to the 7th century and despite the erosion due to the sea and weather conditions surprisingly well preserved. The are now part of UNESCO's World Heritage.

These temple are all carved out from one single rock of pink granite. The towers have the shape of a pyramid and named after the Pandavas (Arjuna, Bhima, Yudhishtra, Nakula and Sahadeva) and Draupadi.

In the guesthouse I had met Gwen and we went out to explore these temples (Gwen's on the picture above, I would meet her a year later in Paris), the town, surrounding and the beaches. Some people claim that seeing one temples means you've seen them all. I disagree with that statement. The temples here are pretty worn out by the sea which gives them a complete different kind of atmosphere.

The Shore Temple The Shore Temple
The Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram

The fishing industry is very lively. In the early morning the men go out for their daily catch come back anything they can get, see below. After they are back, it's time to sort and sell the fresh fish at the market, usually by the women, while the men either sleep or being lazy. Some women repair the nets for the next day.

The Shore Temple
The Shore Temple

The beach is always busy. It's a meeting place for people, playground for kids, a place to sell directly the fresh fish or just a place to sleep the heat of the day away.

Fish at Mahabalipuram
Catch of the day ...

It's easy to spend a few days on the beach without even go a for swim. Besides, the current is quite heavy at times, so you have to be careful. But that said, during the weekends, locals from Chennai come to enjoy the fresh air and the sea. And seeing the locals enjoying the beach puts beach fun in a different light (see the first photo).

Mahabalipuram turned out to be much more interesting than I had expected on arrival. Some years later the tsunami of Christmas 2004 destroyed a lot of the village. I have not been back since those days.

Children at Mahabalipuram Fisherman at Mahabalipuram

And yes, the town is nothing much, but it's a great place to hang out for a couple of days. I didn't travel further south. Instead I went to Bangalore, Mysore and Ooty before going back north to Hampi, Aurangabad with Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves in the vicinity.

Accommodation in Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram does have a few very interesting attractions but more than a day or 2 you probably won't stay. That said, I found a nice little guesthouse near the beach where I met some nice people and stayed a whole week. Such things sometimes happen.

Fisherman at Mahabalipuram

Is it essential to book in advance? Not really except in the holiday and festival periods. For the most it's a quiet little town where you will plenty of hotels. Still, it might be worth to check some out, even if it is to get an idea what to expect:

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